arena V:
from dusk till dawn

By kismet

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The roar of the crowd came at him like a solid wall of sound, lifting him off his feet. Heady stuff, hearing that worship from a thousand souls.

"On the left…in his second fight…Spike, William the Bloody!" The announcer's voice was almost lost in the sound of the crowd's bloodthirst. "Up against…time-proven…eighth…killer…Planer!"

The lights came on and he saw his opponent clearly for the first time.

No wonder Planer was mad; physically he looked like something a drunken dollmaker had stitched together out of assorted odds and ends. His head was elongated and bare, the back of the cranium distorted into rubbery-looking organic coils, his torso permanently hunched over supported by a pair of hugely muscled frog-like legs. His arms hung down loosely on either side, huge claws dragging their tips in the sand. His bloodshot eyes rolled in his head and he giggled, showing a toothless maw like a leech's sucker.

"You're an ugly bugger," Spike muttered under his breath. "Saw your own reflection in the mirror one fine day and jumped off into the deep end, did you?" He knew the danger was real, very real, but it only added spice to the adrenaline already rushing through his veins. His blood was singing; this was a fight. A real knock-down drag-out where the prize was walking away alive. He had been born for this.

Muscles stretched and his fight-honed body eased into reserve, ready as he began to move out in the ring with his fist up in defensive.

"Live feed just for you, Princess," Julian was saying. "Like it?"

Buffy leant against the wall where he couldn't see her even standing up by the grille as he was. No way she would let him see her eyes riveted on the screen, watching Spike out there with that…that thing. She knew he was good. He was the only one who had ever managed to fight her to a standstill, but was he THAT good?

"What am I supposed to say? Congratulations, you win an Oscar for best producer? Boring much." She yawned for effect.

Julian laughed. She would have liked to rip his throat out.

"Why don't we make a little bet, then, up the stakes?" he said silkily. "Planer against Spike. You have the advantage here, love, I'll let you choose which fighter you'll bet on since you already know something about the vampire, don't you? Been hearing rumours, Princess. Seems you two had some kind of history."

"And which tabloid do you work for?" Buffy whirled around and slammed up against the door, feeling a spurt of petty satisfaction when Julian jumped away. She smiled at him in a way that would have done Spike proud. "What other little details would you like to know? Whether we got pelvic? Who I dated in high school? What colour underwear I've got on?" She ran her tongue over the tips of her teeth. "You want all the tasty little details, you pay. What're you offering?"

The burly guards with him had lunged forward, but with a motion of his hand he cut them off. She saw the glitter in his eyes, the glitter of pure enjoyment. He liked being able to taunt her, liked the feeling of power it gave him. And he liked it that she was playing his game. Not for long, loser.

Again Planer leapt, the muscles in his thighs propelling him upwards like giant pistons. With a snarl Spike jumped away, hitting the ground and rolling to his feet as Planer landed in the spot where he had been a moment ago, nearly catching the edge of his black duster. Bloody Hell!

"I could set up your fights so you wouldn't have to wait so long. Usually fighters only fight once a month, if they're popular. If you're waiting through ten fights, that's almost a year in here. How long do you think you would survive a year in solitary, Princess?" He came up to the grille, so  close she could have reached out a hand and gouged his eyes out. Wait a sec, that was something Spike would have done…

"I'm offering you a quick way out, if you can win your fights."

She held his stare for a long hard moment. "You made just one mistake, Jail-Boy. You made Spike really aggro, and I'm betting you can kiss Planer's ass goodbye."

The vampire roared when near foot-long talons slashed through the back of his leather duster, raking lines through pale skin that wept blood. The demon in him snarling and spitting, Spike let his game-face take over and immediately felt the surge of uncontrolled violence shoot through him. Golden eyes blinked as his vision shifted, and the Slayer's face bubbled to the surface of his mind. His body tensed, slipping into the old pattern. It was her he was fighting in that battle that had dragged on forever and which he had to win.

This time when Planer leapt he was ready, aiming his leap just a little lower, just so…His clawed-up fingers hooked in the loose brown folds of belly skin and ripped, his weight carrying him through the clean arc of his leap.

Thick, mucus-like yellow fluid spattered out onto the sand and Planer's jump ended raggedly short as he screamed, a thick, high-pitched sound.

The demon in Spike licked its lips and snapped its teeth as he cast aside the ribbon of skin and stinking flesh that he had torn off. Again he saw the flutter of long blonde hair in his mind's eye, superimposed against the backdrop of a night-time alley. There she was stubbornly ahead of him, refusing to just soddin' die or to give in. She had the face of an angel and fought like a demon…He had to win.

Buffy felt her teeth click together as she chewed off a section of her thumbnail. "Ugh!" Spitting it out in disgust she pushed off from the wall and paced the cell, watching the fight unfold in the pit. The cocky idiot had better watch his back, not that she cared if he was dusted, but he was the only one in here that she actually knew.

His leg was hurt and he favours it…the thought ran through his head on automatic pilot as he watched Planer stumble a bit, oozing yellow muck onto the sand. His mind seemed to be viewing two planes at once, two separate scenes. One harshly lit with flourescent lights, with the sound of a crowd's screams and the smell of their wounds. The other dark and lit only by the moon and the mist-coiled light of the streetlamps, with the Slayer standing in front of him blocking his way, taunting him.

Spike attacked first this time.

Planer met him midway with the solid thump of flesh against flesh and they hit the sand, the vampire trying to keep his heavier opponent from pinning him to the ground. They scrabbled and for a moment it looked like Spike had the upper hand…then his heel hit a puddle of yellow ooze and he slipped.

Buffy swallowed a curse, knowing that Julian and the guards could still be outside somewhere. "Come on, Bleach-Head," she muttered, a funny sinking feeling in her stomach as she saw Planer straddle Spike with his two monstrous legs and crush him to the ground, his horrible belly wound covering the vampire with yellow slime. One slice of his talons and…

In the corner of his eye he saw it: a spur of bone growing out of a thick mass of scar-tissue from an injury that had been allowed to heal on its own, causing Planer's leg to twist a little inwards with each step. In the night-scape of a Los Angeles alleyway, the Slayer straddled him, pinning him down to the ground with her stake raised high above her head, the mad light in her eyes mingling with laughter that reminded him so much of Dru.

He smashed his fist against the bone-spur and Planer shrieked, lifting himself off instinctively to protect his injury. That was all the time Spike needed to scramble up and gouge at the demon's deep-set eyes. Howling with pain, Planer lashed out wildly with his claws, but Spike had already ducked behind him and had latched on to his back, arms locking around Planer's thick neck.

It was her he held and her he fought, feeling the heat move through him like a blast from the furnace that was her warm human body. He had to, needed to stop the glitter of her eyes and the smell of her hair, had to squeeze down on the pulse galloping through her arteries.

When you know where to grip and just where to press, its easy to break a neck. One twist and its all over. No weapons needed.

The sound of Planer's neck breaking seemed to reverberate in her ears even though no sound came from the screen. She had this crazy urge to clap her hands and shout.

In the Pit, the night-scape blurred and vanished and there was only the body of the demon sprawled in the sand, grotesque head at an odd angle. Spike blinked his eyes as if to clear them, and the demon in him made him throw back his head and roar.

Applause crashed down around him like thunder.

"Magnificent!"

"The bastard's good, I'll say that for him!"

"When's his next fight? Quick, I want to place bets against the house, minimum ten thousand."

"Vicious, isn't he?" One elegantly suited woman in a box turned to her female friend with a wry twist of her mouth. "Too bad we bet on Planer."

"How were we supposed to know?" said the aforesaid friend without taking her eyes from the Pit. "I wonder…do you think he'd be as good elsewhere as he is down there?"

The wry twist turned into a sly smile. "Slut."

"Bitch. But I'm serious; I think he'd be to die for."

"Literally."

"You win, Princess," Julian said in his soft tone. "Congratulations, next fight is yours." He left without even bothering to wait for her retort, which he would have probably enjoyed thoroughly as he enjoyed everything about her. He was excited, and not only because the vampire had proven to be such a huge success. Worth every penny paid to Wolfram and Hart, and soon to be worth more.

He had guessed that she would bet on the vampire.

*~*

Angel lifted the glass to his lips, drained it in one go and tossed it into the fire so it smashed into shards along with the others, the flames flaring up for a moment with the alcohol.

"You're angry. And hurt." J'Heira's voice came quietly out of the shadows. They were both in the living room of the underground apartment.

There was a clink of crystal as the dark-haired vampire poured more whisky from the decanter into  one of the four remaining glasses, topping it up with a good dose of blood from a plastic bottle. "Right on both counts."

"And you think drinking that poison will cure you?"

Angel passed a hand over his eyes, a short laugh breaking through at the insanity of it all. "I don't know how things go on Oden Tal, but here we know there is no cure for this. We just stamp it down and go right on with our lives, trying to forget." The whisky burned his throat, but the blood did nothing to muffle the insistent whisper of the demon in him. The demon he had been fighting for so long…for what? "What do you know about relationships anyway? All the Viggorie women are clipped, its not like they could be unfaithful, betraying bitches…" He didn't realise the extent of his anger till he felt liquid slopping down his hand and his shirt and he looked down to see that he had crushed the glass in his hand. There was no physical pain.

He wanted to take back what he had said. It was something Angelus would have delighted in saying. He wasn't Angelus, couldn't be Angelus. Angelus was the reason why he had lost Buffy in the first place.

Silence save for the crackling of the fire.

"True." Her voice was tight. "And it is anger like this that has clipped us and crippled us. She was no longer your lover, Angel. She had a right to begin again."

"You don't understand," he protested, staring at the glass embedded in his palm and the blood flowing redly through his fingers. "I left so she could find someone like her, someone human who could give her the normal life I could never give her, not another vampire! Not the enemy, and not with lies and…"

"You were her enemy, yet she loved you." There was a shift of movement and she was coming around the sofa to take his injured hand and hold it to the light. Her violet eyes were piercing in their fierce clarity. "Perhaps it is her gift to give love, and your patience should be the gift of gratitude." She touched one of the three large shards, and he hissed, his game-face coming forth at the sudden stabbing pain.

"It goes deep, but you'll live." She smiled as she sat down beside him, taking his forearm onto her lap so he felt the cool of leather and the softness of her brilliant red scarf. "Hold still."

He clenched his teeth as she worked the first shard out, not caring that his blood was slicking onto her leather pants. "Then why did she lie to me? Why was she shielding his identity? And where is she now? Has she run off with her latest undead boyfriend? You ask me if I'm angry, yes, I'm furious!"

She jerked out the second shard none too gently. "As a detective you should have seen already what even a child could see: this is no coincidence. The involvement of Wolfram and Hart alone is suspicious enough. Yet you rush to judge her? So much for the strength of your love." She pulled out the last shard and swiftly doused his hand with whisky, sending a lightning bolt of pain all the way up his arm into his shoulder.

He hissed and swore at her, the liquor starting to take hold, but she held fast. "It's the least you deserve for your 'faith'."

The next second she was pushed back down against the arm of the sofa with his hand locked in a vise around her throat. The demon that snarled down at her seemed almost totally out of control.

"I didn't ask for your opinion or your advice!" The caged demon in him raged down at her, wild and hungry and desperate.

She stared up at him with steady violet eyes, the only change being the slight increase in the rhythm of the rise and fall of her chest. That, and the sudden pervasive aura of heat. A heat that wound around them both and crackled like electricity, fast converting violent rage to another, no-less violent instinct.

With a growl Angel flung himself away and stalked out of the room as fast as his legs could carry him.

J'heira sat up on the couch, one hand going to her neck then rising so her fingers fanned out over her mouth.

*~*

Julian kept his promise to her. They had so many fights slated one after the other that they would be out within weeks.

If they won.

Death's Walk was ominously silent now without Planer's mad presence. Dirk, Buffy and Spike talked sometimes, but the oppressive tension and mounting discomfort made the exchanges short.

Often Buffy would lie awake on her bunk and listen to the impatient pacing of the vampire in the cell opposite hers, interspersed with bouts of mumbling and banging against the confines of his prison. He was becoming as tightly wound as an alarm clock, the claustrophobia and natural restlessness combining to drive him up the wall.

She tried to talk to him at times like these about anything, anything to take his mind off the stagnation of waiting for the next meal, the next fight. Somehow, she couldn't quite figure out how, she had come to think of him not so much as her enemy but a comrade-in-arms.

Soon the time came when the pacing stopped due to exhaustion and injury. Fight after fight, they were top draw in the Arena. Some nights both would not be able to sleep from the pain of slowly healing wounds, but they never stopped talking to each other, needing the comfort and reassurance of familiar voices.

*~*

The glass smashed with one blow of her fist and she grasped the heavy hilt of the sword in both hands, drawing it out from the pedestal as the beast launched itself at her, drooling jaws open with its roar of rage.

She spun and slashed, feeling the pull of the sword even with Slayer strength. The jarring bite of the blade into flesh and bone travelled through her like an electric shock and the huge hairy body crumpled into the sand just short of her feet, huge taloned paws raking the ground in agony.

The sword lifted high, then came down with all her strength behind it. Blood fountained and the crowd shrieked.

"And the fight goes to The Princess!!"

*~*

He couldn't remember the last time he had used twin swords. Had it been with Angelus for the fun of it, all those years ago? Or during his time in that castle in Auvergne? He couldn't remember…but his hands remembered the feel of the blades.

Spike heard the hissing whoosh as the demon cast its weighted net at him and he hit the ground and rolled, letting the deadly mesh fall flat and empty. If he let it catch him, he was going to be more dead than he already was. The three demons were big and ugly, that was all he could say. That and they were good with ancient weapons. Well, the first one hadn't been bloody good enough because he was already dead, head almost cut off his shoulders.

He jerked to one side and felt the cool rush of air as the battle-ax clove the air next to his ear. The demon never paused but let the heavy double-headed weapon's momentum carry it into its swing on the opposite side. This time Spike caught the blow with crossed blades and turned the weapon's deadly head down between his swords. Then he ducked, dropping to his knees so the trident jabbed forward by the demon behind him passed over his white blond hair and entered the chest of the axe-wielder.

One neat turn with an upswung blade and the demon dropped the trident, his belly torn sideways open.

The spectators surged to their feet, fists pumping the air and faces contorted with human bloodthirst.

"Magnificent fight, ladies and gentlemen! Listen to the applause! Another fight goes to the Vampire, William the Bloody!"

*~*

A vampire pack. She didn't know how they had managed to snag an entire vampire pack, but she wasn't going to ask questions.

The hardcore enthusiasts in the crowd were beside themselves. Many had flown in to watch a captive Slayer doing what came naturally.

Two, four, eight…her mind ticked off mechanically as she bobbed and weaved among her opponents, always moving to keep them from boxing her in. Had to keep moving because if they closed in on her there would be a new Slayer in town come sunrise. Mercifully they had already provided her with the stake this time. Here there were no tombstones and crypts and trees and cover. Just the blinding white of the sand and the yellow, scarred walls. Black bars and the dark red of dried blood.

The blow sent her spinning to crash into the wall and the audience shifted as nails tore through her sleeve and skin, ripping open one shoulder of her black turtleneck. Blood welled and the vampires hissed, golden eyes glowing.

She thought there was a torn muscle in her left leg, the pain shooting up her calf making her limp. Three dusted, five more to go. Back to the wall, Buffster. Let them come.

Fifteen minutes later, there was dust, and the Slayer wavered on her feet, blinking at the cheers of the crowd before limping towards the open gate.

*~*

Whatever it was, it looked like a bear and hugged like a bear. Only it smelled a thousand times worse.

Spitting and snarling, he thrashed in its grip, kicking and tearing at the black shagginess of its torso. It only hugged tighter, and the vampire roared as he heard his own ribs creak in protest.

At length the creature seemed to realise that its opponent was not going to suffocate to death, so it decided to make things easier. The jaws that opened above Spike's head held double rows of yellow teeth like fence-posts and the fetid odour of the breath that rolled out over him made him want to heave.

Like a snake striking, the massive head came down only to jerk back screaming in pain, both eyes ripped out. From there the fight wasn't easy, but it was his.

*~*

On and on it went.

"And the fight goes to none other than the sylph-like killer, the Arena's resident Lady…the Princess! "

"Champion for the Fifth time in a row ladies and gentlemen give a big hand to Spike!"

"…breaking through the ranks at an unprecedented rate…"

"…crowd favourites…"

"You can already predict who the fight will go to…"

"…always the guarantee of a spectacular fight…"

*~*

"You've got to get Julian to stop this!" Dirk's voice hissed out into the hall as Buffy crouched in her transport cage, bloodied and exhausted from her latest fight. "You're going to fight till you drop! It's suicide, no one could survive this schedule."

She cradled her left arm in her lap, trying to cushion it to prevent the pain from lancing through her with the motion of the cage. She knew if she checked later her body would be a solid mass of bruising, plus she had a split lip and what would be a beautiful black eye. This time she had gotten off easily. Thank God for Slayer healing, but sometimes she wondered even if Slayer healing was enough.

"Look, I…" the cage moved past her door and she whipped around. "Hey!!"

"Slayer? Slayer!!" Dirk's door rattled and she caught a glimpse of mottled skin and a serpentine green eye through the bars.

"What's goin' on?" she heard Spike growl from his cage a little way behind her as he too, was wheeled past his door. "I've had a bloomin' bad day and I'm not in the mood for any soddin' game right now!" There was a clang as he struck the bars, rattling the whole cage. Buffy turned stiffly in time to see one of the guards raise his electric prod.

"Don't!" The man didn't even turn his ugly head at her shout. "Spike, sit down!"

"Don't be an idiot, man," Dirk's voice rasped, growing fainter behind them. "Don't give them an excuse to kill you outside the Ring, you hear me? Spike!"

"I hear you!" His growling a deep menacing rumble coming from the pit of his chest, Spike edged restlessly into one corner, bracing himself against the bars. "Where are we going?"

"New quarters, my friend, new quarters," came Julian's smooth voice cheerfully. "I thought my two best fighters were getting a little wound up in their small rooms, so a change of scene might be in order." He was standing just around the corner, in the wide, empty space in front of what incongrously looked like the set of a family sitcom. A series of open plan room environments linked to each other and devoid of doors and separating walls, save for a fold that sheltered what must be the bedroom and bathroom from view.

"Bloody. Hell," said Spike in disbelief.

"You've earned it." Julian played with the little control that linked to their headbands. "This little corner was originally part of an earlier enterprise which used it for holding their fighters. Quite a dank, dark, unhappy little place, but we've managed to remodel it, make it a little more home-like." He stepped casually back as the cages were opened, his thumb ready on the control buttons. "See that?" He indicated a blue line marking the border between the area and the outside hall. "Walk over it."

"Do we have a choice?" Buffy said acidly as one of the guards nudged her none too gently. Spike's growling upped a notch, but they stepped over the blue line. And felt nothing.

"Did you think we were going to electrocute you?" Julian said jovially at the looks on their faces. "This little line here has far more subtle uses. No bars, no doors and no locks, but if you step over the line wearing your headbands you will literally spontaneously combust, vampire or human. Enjoy your stay."

*~*

"Eureka!" Wesley and Giles came hurrying up the steps from Angel's apartment, Giles holding up what looked like a credit card triumphantly in one hand.

Six heads snapped up in unison, one vampire, a demon and the about-to-nod-off Slayerettes.
"You've done it?" Angel slipped off the edge of the reception desk where he had been sitting.

Wesley produced another identical card. "The circuitry was a problem, but your Larry Watts came through quite nicely, considering the circumstances. We have here automatic clearance for two people to an entire year of fights."

"Peachy," said Xander. "Can we go and kick ass now?"

"What about the headbands Watts told us about?" Willow asked. "Remember? Jewellery of the 1000-volts kind?"

"Horsehair," said Angel.

"I-I'm afraid it's not that simple…" Giles passed a hand over his eyes and was immediately pre-empted by Cordelia. "Why not? Horsehair was my idea, and it worked the last time."

"Why are we talking about hair?" Xander looked confused. Which for Xander was a very natural state. "Does anyone remember that we have to get the Buffster out of there before something very, very bad happens?"

"Larry Watts colleagues obviously decided against repeating the mistakes of the MacNamara brothers," Wesley explained. "The headbands are largely made up of the same metal as the wristbands but there is the addition of micro-circuitry not unlike the cards…"

"Which would prove rather difficult to remove, " Giles finished for the younger ex-Watcher.

Willow shuddered. "According to my research on the secure site, that means either they'll have splitting headaches…"

"Like me with continuous vision-rewind," put in Cordelia.

"…or they'll turn to ashes if they cross a coloured line."

"What happened to the kick ass bit? Is anyone concerned about that?" Xander looked around and raised his hand.

"We have not much time left," J'heira said to Angel. "It has been weeks, they could be dead by now."

"Th-there is one way," Giles offered. "You need to get the control pad from Julian Landersdown."

"Then that's what we do," Angel said grimly. "No!" he snapped when Wesley made to protest. "I'm not waiting another night. We're going to do this now." Turning on his heel, he stalked out of the room and into the lift, yanking the door shut and hitting the down button.

There was a stunned silence. It just wasn't like Angel to…blow up.

"What bit him on the rear?" Xander broke the silence. "Deadboy actually lost his temper; wonders will never cease."

"He's been touchy ever since we found out that Buffy and the Master were logged in on the Arena betting-board," Cordelia sighed. "And the fact that Spike was the Master didn't quite make his day either."

Again there was an uncomfortable silence as the Slayerettes were forcibly reminded of their last talk with Buffy before she had disappeared. Buffy and Spike dancing at the Masquerade, and if you believed rumour, sucking face. Buffy and Spike being bet on in the website with some distinct innuendo underneath the betting form. Angel being…jealous?

"He feels guilt," J'heira said quietly. "His trust for this 'Buffy' did not hold and he believed that she had betrayed him with another. Now that she is in danger he is impatient to help her and in that way appease his guilt."

Willow and Cordelia shifted uncomfortably. Had Buffy actually betrayed Angel?

"Who's going to go? " said Anya suddenly, making them all start.

"Go where?" Giles took off his spectacles.

"You know, to the Arena. Two tickets, someone's got to go." Anya shrugged. "It can't be Angel or dimension-leaping lady over there because no demons allowed except in the ring."

"But don't we need our best fighters?" asked Willow worriedly. "To do the infiltration thing, I mean. And…and J'heira and Angel are our best."

"Hey!" Xander waved both hands in the air. "Does anybody forget I'm skilled in the arts of stealth and combat?"

"Oh yes, we forgot Mr. Invisible here," Cordelia said snidely. "Or was it Mr. Egotistical?"

Wesley and Giles looked at each other resignedly as the squabbling began.

*~*

Buffy's scream came out as a stifled groan and she chewed on the rolled-up cloth in her mouth. Beads of sweat stood out on her forehead in clear drops and her eyelids were squeezed tightly shut.

A muscle leaped in Spike's cheek. Get a hold of yourself, mate! Shifting his grip slightly, he continued manoeuvring her forearm, feeling through skin and flesh for the irregularity of a dislocated elbow-joint. She sobbed through the cloth that her teeth were shredding, her fingers digging into his thigh as she banged her head back against the wall with the pain.

He pressed hard and she screamed again.

"It's all right now, love, it's all done and you'll be fine," he found himself babbling as he swiftly wound the bandages around her arm and the broken-off chair leg he was using as a splint. Listening to her cries of pain had shot his nerves, he realised. Strange, since the last time he checked he had enjoyed listening to screams of pain.

Not her, though. He did not want her to have to feel pain, ever.  He wanted to hold her in his arms as he was doing now, comforting her as she cried. Wanted to protect her with the fierce protectiveness he had held for Dru for all those years.

He was mad. Being here had driven him insane.

Her sobs were slowing and he held her away uncomfortably. "You alright, Slayer?"

Her face was a mess, reddened and tear-streaked and bruised, the soft tissue around her right eye swollen and the greeny-purple colour of an unripe plum. Drawing a shaky breath, Buffy nodded her head and spat out the piece of ripped-off curtain.

"Don't go all teary on me now," Spike said to her. "The bones will set right and with luck you'll be fine for the next fight. You're the Slayer, remember? Put on this earth to kick my rear into next week?" That put a wavering smile on her face and the relief that washed through him shamed him to no end.

Pain she could handle, Buffy told herself. Pain told her she was still alive and still fighting. Pain was good.

Who are you trying to kid? her body scoffed. Pain hurts like Hell.

She shook her head to clear it and looked up. Right into the concerned dark blue eyes of the scowling vampire kneeling scant inches away from her. The impulse that shot through her was to lay her head on his shoulder and just close her eyes in relief at the touch of another, and like a startled horse she shied away from the thought as well as the unconscious stroking of his hand up and down her arm.

"OK, playing nursemaid is over." She tried to push herself up, knocking his hand away. "Don't get into the habit of making me a substitute for Drusilla, OK? It's way wiggy."

She realised the severity of what she had said a split second before she saw the dark rage rise in his eyes and he slammed her back against the wall. "Don't you say her name! You hear me? Don't you bloody say her name!"

OK, Buffy, don't panic, she told herself. It's just Spike, remember? Not some monster in the Pit trying to kill you…Then she remembered that there was no guarantee he wouldn't kill her. It wasn't a nice thought to have while she was wedged on the floor in the corner between the sofa and the wall in a half-reclining position with the person who was technically still her mortal enemy crouched over her, fingers digging into her shoulders.

"Spike, don't make me knock you flat on your back." She didn't exactly manage to make it sound intimidating; more breathy than anything else.

He pushed his face so close to hers that their noses might have touched. "Is this the way you normally thank people for their help, Slayer? Is this what you said to Angel after he gave you a really good lay?"

That hit her where it hurt. He saw it in the snap of her eyes as she closed the small distance between them another fraction. "At least he was capable of giving a good lay, which is more than Drusilla could say for you."

She knew she had crossed some invisible line at that moment, and it was confirmed when his mouth suddenly closed over hers hard, forcing her head back against the wall. It was not a gentle kiss or a tender one, it was meant to punish her for her hurtful words and her slighting his masculinity. Yet somehow it turned into something else and she was giving as good as she got, her fingers curling painfully in his hair as she bit his lip, making him growl.

This is sodding crazy, Spike thought a fleeting instant before her knee rose, stroking his side in unmistakable invitation. With a groan he gathered her possessively to him, gripping her so tightly he might have hurt her had she been a normal human girl, his mouth sucking at the smooth, inviolate flesh of her neck, licking at the throbbing vein he could never bite down on. She was forbidden and it made her even more delicious, even more desirable.

Buffy clung to him with her good arm, nails scratching at his smooth, cool skin as the fever rose in her like a crimson tide. Slayer, vampire; it didn't matter at this moment. His mouth and his hands were filling the hungry need in her that had been there for so long without her realisation ever since that night when a vampire prince had kissed a golden maharani. It had gotten worse after the Pit; sex and violence. The emergence of her basest nature. His tongue explored the crevices of her ear, making her gasp and mewl and bite his jaw hard enough to break through skin. For the first time she tasted the tingling metallic taste of his inhuman blood.

Spike gasped and reared his head back, looking down at her as he felt the cool wetness trickle down his neck. Her eyes were half-closed, her lips rouged with blood and her hair in a snarled gold veil around her face. Bruised and cut, she was still the sexiest most desirable creature he had ever set eyes on. His sire's lover, the Slayer he couldn't bloody manage to kill, the woman who would have killed Drucilla in the blink of an eye if she could, his arch-nemesis…Forbidden in more ways than he could count.

Since when had he ever obeyed the rules?

"Slayer." It hissed between his teeth like a sound of mingled hate and desire.

"Spike." Her eyes fluttered open, the hazel pupils slightly dilated.

"Are you sure you want this?" He asked tightly, his body straining to keep still. "After this…nothing will ever bloody be the same again. Are you sure you want to take that risk?"

She looked at him. Beautiful, dangerous, evil? She wanted him even so. It was like an epiphany.

He nearly died again when she whispered in his ear, "Make it worth the risk." Then she was in his arms clinging to him as he carried her to the closed-off bedroom.

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